From city for people to ghost town
Most people would give a limb for a house in Delhi. But there is one area that has remained a snubbed city for over two decades despite having nearly 8,000 flats on offer—Narela. Sidhartha Roy reports.
It has all the trappings of a perfectly planned residential area, worthy of making any house hunter drool—wide roads, neatly built and affordable flats, abundant water and power, huge parks, markets, banquet halls et al. Most importantly, it offers the biggest catch of them all—a Delhi pin code.
And despite this, the 8,000-odd flats in Narela, built by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), have a handful of residents scattered across its different pockets. In some of pockets, the only form of life is a lone property dealer, sitting in his decked-up office, waiting forever for that elusive customer.
Compare this to the clamour for the 16,000 flats that DDA offered in its 2010 housing scheme. It had received nearly 50 applications for each of these flats. Nearly 1,000 applicants were allotted flats in Narela too but most didn't even turn up to give them a good look, property dealers in the area said.
The sub-city resembles a town that has fallen prey to a terrible radiation leak. The only sound is that of rustling of dried leaves, interspersed with the occasional loud slamming of doors from faraway houses. The colony is so eerie that even property dealers leave before sunset. "People don't want to live here due to lack of connectivity," Ajay Chaudhry, a property dealer, said. Narela is far from the city centre—42 km, to be precise, from CP.Along with Rohini and Dwarka, Narela is the third sub-city planned by DDA. And the lack of planning is apparent. Rohini was planned in 1984 and came up by 1990s. Planning for Dwarka and Narela began in 1989. Both Dwarka and Rohini had sufficient bus services and later, the Metro. But Narela has almost no connectivity.
"Narela had great potential but it was sidelined," said AK Jain, former Commissioner (Planning), DDA. Jain was responsible for the planning of Dwarka. "Narela has no shortage of water, power or roads but DDA never tried to make it attractive. Projects like exhibition centres, clubs, nice parks are needed to glamourise it," he added.
Narela has no proper schools or hospitals. "It doesn't have social infrastructure. Where would people send their children to study or go when they are sick?" Jain said. That is why people are willing to shift to NCR towns like Greater Noida and Dharuhera, which are as far away from Delhi's centre but offer better amenities.
Metro, however, can be the saviour of this neglected colony. "Lack of transportation is a problem but as soon as the Metro arrives here, people would start coming in," said DDA spokesperson Neemo Dhar. She said apart from connectivity, Narela is a perfectly planned sub-city.
Vineet K Singh, Business Head of real estate portal 99acres.com said that apart from connectivity, Narela also needs more commercial development to attract people. "Only if corporates and service industry comes here, people would be willing to shift," he said.
'The area resembles a graveyard at night'
Seema, who goes by just her first name, does not come out of her one-bedroom house in Narela after the sun goes down.
"Whatever work or chores that require me to go outside the house, are done in the daytime. There is no question of going out after evening," she said. "There are few people to be seen on the roads even during the day and the area resembles a graveyard in the night," she said.
Seema, along with her husband, son and daughter shifted to Narela a year ago.
"We were living in Jahangirpuri in north Delhi earlier, but since we are very poor, my husband couldn’t afford to pay the rent there," she said. She doesn't like staying in Narela but doesn't have too many options.
"Thefts are very common here, even though hardly anyone lives here," she said. "Hoodlums from the nearby villages come here to steal metal wires and other fittings from the vacant flats. They have broken the locks of almost all empty houses here and have taken out everything that is of any value."
"My husband is a daily wage worker and has no fixed area of work," she said. "There are very few buses coming to this area and my husband often hitchhikes with any vehicle passing through here," she said.
Though Seema somewhat likes the calm and quietness of the area, she doesn't mind having a few neighbours. "There is no one here I can talk to or a place where I can go to for recreation. I hope the Metro comes here and brings more people along to live here," she said.
'There are parks, but who do kids play with?'
On a blazing afternoon, Archana Bisht, a resident of pocket B in Narela, was walking down a wide and deserted road towards her house with her two children in tow.
Archana is one of the very few people brave enough to live in the desolate DDA flats of Narela.
"The only reason we live here is that the rent is cheap and it is not as congested as the villages nearby," she said.
Her husband works in north Delhi, and in absence of good public transport, depends on his motorcycle. "There is only one Delhi Transport Corporation bus that comes to Narela and that too is few and far between," she said.
The colony has no schools to offer, with the land earmarked for schools vacant. "The only school is in the nearby Tigri village and with no buses available till there, I walk three kilometres each way with my children daily," she said. "There are many parks and open grounds in the area but whom do my children play with? There are very few families living in this area," she said.
"There is also not a single shop in the entire area and we have to stock up on food items and other household goods in bulk when we visit a market," she said. "The only reason we are living here is because we have no other option."